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Maldives: Disturbing Trends since the First Round of Presidential Elections:

Paper No. 5573              Dated 2-Oct-2013
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
As expected, developments since the first round of elections that  went off smoothly have been very disturbing.  The Indian Foreign Minister rightly pointed out that India is “disappointed and distressed” over the situation. 
Ever since the Supreme Court ordered an indefinite postponement of the run off to the elections, there has been a steady escalation in protests and violence. A few vehicles have been torched and threat calls have been made to the Election Commission members as well as some political leaders.  An overzealous Police is targeting the MDP protesters which would only result in escalation of  generally peaceful protests into violent ones.
Meanwhile, the call of former President Nasheed that “rather than go for elections, we must try to topple the government and take over” is not an encouraging sign as the frustrated voters of MDP may resort to violence which the MDP leaders may not be able to control.  The resolution of the National Council of the MDP  to “protest until justice is served” is not of any help either.
Some of the developments in the last few days that need to be highlighted are
1.  Ever since the Jumhooree party filed a case in the Supreme Court, there has been a genuine fear that the 2nd round of elections will be derailed.   The Majlis therefore convened an extraordinary session that had to be postponed  twice to pass a resolution calling for the state institutions to proceed with the elections.  There was unprecedented violence within the Majlis with the speaker’s mike being destroyed and members assaulted.
2. The same day, the Supreme Court in defiance of the resolution passed by the Majlis issued an injunction order to delay the run off to the elections until the court case is decided.  By introducing a few witnesses ( no one knows who they were) the counsel for the complainant made the extraordinary plea that these statements should be extrapolated for the entire election and that too by a party which lost by a margin of over 40000 votes!  What was worse-while the case could have been decided before the day of elections (28th) the Supreme Court accepted a petition from another party the PPM, making it virtually impossible to decide the case before the deadline. The PPM was not an affected party as it had ensured a place in the second round and yet inexplicably it joined the fray to help the Jumhooree. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that there is a conspiracy to annul the first round of elections with a pliant judiciary with a politicised JSC ( Judicial Service Commission)  and thus exclude Nasheed from contesting.  
3.  The Supreme Court has not endeared itself either to the public in including a tainted judge in the bench whose suspension was recommended but rejected by the Judicial Service Commission. One of the members of the JSC at that time was the aggrieved candidate who has filed a case before the very judge and others!  It is not surprising therefore that the symbol of protests was a large pair of white underpants in the courts across the country- a reference to the sex tapes in which  a member of the bench Ali Hameed of the Supreme Court figured.  Numerous people were arrested by an overzealous Police Force at various places for hanging out the underpants! The MDP has rightly asked how it can expect justice from such a bench where insiders say Hameed Ali was the most hostile judge in examining the lawyer of the Election Commission Dr. Husnu Suvood. Later the entire team of the defence lawyers of the Election Commission was thrown out of court for “contempt of court.” The sympathy of the court was elsewhere and this  was laid bare.
4.  A constitutional crisis had begun with the Election Commission proceeding with the arrangements for the 2nd round of elections as mandated by the elections, while the Supreme Court took the unusual position that it can even change the constitution.  When preparations are being made, the Supreme Court had a midnight meeting on 26th calling on the Police and the military to enforce the injunction order and halt all preparations for the conduct of the elections. On 27th September, the Police surrounded the entire building housing the Election Commission. Various arms of the government informed that they will not support the EC physically, materially or financially any effort to conduct the second round of the elections.  The Chief of Election Commission had to reluctantly abandon all efforts to conduct the elections.  The question that needs to be asked- Can the Supreme Court which is only entitled to interpret the Constitution postpone a constitutional date?  
5.  The 5000 strong Tourist Employees Association of Maldives has threatened prolonged strikes at resorts throughout the country on a call made by the MDP.  Hamid Ghafoor of MDP pointed out that it is the money that tourism brings that go to finance the suppression of democracy.  Tourism covers over 60 percent of Maldives budget and the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries ( MATI) is naturally alarmed.
6.  The international opinion has been strongly in favour of conducting the second round of elections.  The Commonwealth Special envoy described the situation as “deeply worrying.” Other countries like Canada, Australia have also expressed their concerns.   The US has pointed out that the conduct of second round of elections in a “timely fashion” is central to the democratic process.  President Waheed has objected to the statements of the foreign countries and calls it as of no help but only hindrance! The Indian envoy was summoned by the Maldivian foreign office for “interfering in the internal affairs of the country.”  All that the Indian envoy did was to meet the Chief and other members of the Elections Commission!  He had not met any party leader and had not said anything in favour of any of the contestants.   It is good that two Indian naval ships are in Maldivian waters right now. 
On 22nd September Gasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree who has filed the case for annulling the first round, declared that “he is not a person who will challenge the verdicts of courts of law”.  His party made a “U “ turn a week later when it officially announced that it will not accept any verdict of the Supreme Court that does not accept fresh elections!
Nasheed has also declared that he does not and will not accept the verdict of the Supreme Court.  He had his reasons for not accepting the verdict. He has pointed out that  many in the Supreme Court Bench lack knowledge and expertise.  Then there is the presence of a tainted judge who is sitting there thanks to a favour done by the complainant Gasim Ibrahim.  Nasheed wants the Bench to be changed.
The EC has pointed out that the complainant both the Jumhooree and the PPM have not identified a single person who had voted fraudulently.  They have also not been able to point out any person younger than 18 of having voted in the elections.  In the first list of seven persons who were named as having not been able to vote in the absence of their names not being in the electoral list, it was found that four had actually voted.  The others are being traced.  He has also indicated that in the current situation, election cannot be held before November 11 as mandated in the constitution.
A stage is set where the situation similar to post February 8 of 2012 is being repeated.  There will be senseless violence.  If the Supreme Court verdict goes against the MDP, there will be a likelihood of chaos and breakdown in law and order.  Unlike last time, the entire security forces may  not be in favour of the government and there will be support for the MDP too from some elements.  
Some of the senior officers of the MNDF have already written a “ letter of concern” to the Chief of the Defence Force Ahmed Shiyam following the failure of the country to hold scheduled elections on September 28.  The letter points out the failure of the state institutions, possible politicisaion of the military and issue of unconstitutional orders! 
Even another coup like the one on February 7th may not be smooth!
The current situation in one word is “Grim.”